Q&A / 

Cleaning P Traps, Tailpieces and Drain Lines

Cleaning out drain lines is not my favorite job by any means. But sometimes it is a necessary task to rid a drain of clogs or to stop odors from drifting out of sinks. We have a small extra sink in our kitchen next to the refrigerator. My kids constantly pour milk and other drinks into the sink. They also drop food into it. That is not so bad but what they don't do is rinse it out. After a while the bacteria in the milk and food start to grow on the tailpiece that leads from the sink down to the trap. This produces a foul odor. Every now and then, I have to disassemble the trap and the tailpiece to clean it. It is nearly impossible to get a brush past the small holes in the sink strainer.

Doing Plumbing

Taking apart drain lines beneath a sink is perhaps the first place that many people start their DIY plumbing careers. It is relatively safe to do compared to working with water supply lines that are pressurized. If you goof up and can't get the drains back together, you can always put a bucket under the trap or the pipes. If you goof up a water line connection, you can have a Niagara Falls simulator in your house in no time flat.

Required Tools

If you want to take apart drain lines, you just need a few tools. A 12 inch or possibly a 14 inch pipe wrench is a good start. A large channel lock pliers or fancy locking type wrench found at Sears stores will do as well. If your drain lines are tubular plastic and you have a strong grip you can often loosen the nuts without any tools.

If you are working in an old home, be careful of the pipe that connects to the desanko fitting in the wall. Sometimes these pipes were directly leaded into the joint! If you disturb that pipe you can create a leak that is nearly impossible to fix without tearing into the wall.

Dicey Work With Old Pipes

Anytime you work on old plumbing, it can be a challenge. Pipes wear out and threaded joints that originally went together with ease can become welded together with deposits or rust. Anytime I decide to work on old pipes, I always figure a worst case scenario. In fact, if you are planning to live in the house for a decent period of time, it is always best to replace old piping with new so as to have trouble free plumbing for years.

No Stretching Please

When you are working with P traps and tailpieces, watch how you measure. A tailpiece normally fits into a P trap about one and one half inches. I have seen drain lines where a homeowner only had the tailpiece sticking into the P trap about one quarter inch. All someone had to do was bump the P trap and the drain line would fall apart. If you need a longer tailpiece to get deep into the trap, then get it. I always carry assorted lengths with me so I am prepared. They are inexpensive, so buy different ones when you are working on your drain lines.

Preventative Maintenance

To keep drain lines running free and clear, I periodically fill a sink to the brim with water. I then pull the plug and let the water rush down the drain. The weight of the water in the sink creates a decent amount of pressure and often completely fills the branch line from the sink to the main drain completely with water. This is good as the sides and the top surfaces of the pipe get a little cleaning. It is also a great idea to do the same thing with the main drain from time to time. Fill all of the sinks, tubs, etc. with water and then get everyone in the family to pull a drain plug at the same time. Flush the toilets at the same instant and the main drain line gets a huge slug of water going through it.

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2 Responses to Cleaning P Traps, Tailpieces and Drain Lines

  1. Can you give me any advise on how to retrieve a jewelry item from the inside of a bathroom lavatory. I have tried to flush it out and, using a bent coat hanger, tried to push it on through but no success. Can you help? Thanks.

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